PodCamp Toronto: Zoe Siskos & Death of Pie Charts

I sat in on a session by Zoe Siskos at Podcamp Toronto 2010.  Zoe Siskos is a Manager of Influencer Relations at Syncapse.  She runs her blog at mediumandthemessage.com.

Her session was a very brief look at infometrics, and why one can use so much more than a pie chart to represent data.

Zoe begins by saying that she doesn’t have a problem with pie charts themselves, but with the rampant abuse of pie charts.  She gives an example of a pie chart used in a mainstream US media outlet showing a pie chart representing the popularity of presidential candidates during the last campaign.  She says it’s hard to take pie charts seriously these days because “they usually make you feel high.”

She says that we gather large amounts of data, gain valuable insight and then find boring and unsophisticated ways of displaying all of that information.  Our brains like to put information into categories.  Good infographics should be an accurate visual representation of the data, combining words and visuals into one to stimulate that side of our brain and engage us.  Engage your clients, she says, the same way you would engage their customers.

Zoe proceeds on to show a number of classic examples of successful historical infographics, the earliest recorded being Egyptian heiroglyphics, and another being the periodic table of elements.

She says that creating a good infograph combines both science and art, and takes an open mind and a different way of seeing things.  There are five key points to consider:

  • Know your objective.  Make sure your starting point is your focal point.
  • Know your information, whether it be spatial, graphical, emotional, etc.
  • Know your audience.
  • Know what others are doing, and learn and be inspired by them.
  • Know your friends and turn to them for feedback.  They’ll help you keep things simple and to point out things you may have missed.

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